runDisney encompasses eight weekends across the domestic parks and one weekend in Disneyland Paris. The runDisney craze has only been going for a few years but runDisney has existed for nearly 25 years since the first Walt Disney World Marathon in 1993. Since then runDisney has grown exponentially and become a huge part of the Disney company from a parks standpoint. Many Disney travelers seem to try and avoid the times of a marathon weekend because they believe crowds increase and it’s not going to be a pleasant experience for their vacation. As someone who has done multiple runDisney events and toured the parks during runDisney weekends, I would like to share how you can make it a magical experience just as if there were no runDisney events going on.
At the resorts
While I have never experienced a runDisney weekend on the west coast, I would imagine based on what I have seen and heard, the experience at the resorts is similar to the experience in Walt Disney World except for the transportation. In Disneyland, runDisney events are all within walking distance of the Disneyland resorts. At Walt Disney World, you must take some mode of transportation to get to and from events. For those not running or watching a race, you may notice an increase in coach buses on Walt Disney World property. runDisney brings in dozens of large coach buses to transport runners and spectators to and from race events. The buses usually stop at a designated location at the resort; sometimes they take over one of the park bus stops, other times they stop at the convention hall side of a resort. The buses are marked as runDisney, so if you are not going to a runDisney event, I suggest not getting on one. Other than that, the resorts operate normally and you will often see runners throughout the resorts; don’t be afraid to say congrats or hello as most of us love the support and are very friendly people.
At the parks when an event is not going on
The parks operate just like normal when runDisney events are going on, with just a few exceptions. If the event is done for the day and you are in the parks, the only difference you might notice is an influx of people wearing runDisney medals and shirts. These people are most likely runners and ran at some point over the weekend. Crowd levels are not usually increased by the runners. For the January marathon weekend in Walt Disney World, the crowds have been fairly average. Some runners don’t even venture to the parks after running. As a runDisney runner myself, I head to the parks to get plenty of photos with my medals. Now, for a race like Star Wars Dark Side, crowds might increase a bit due to the time of year; that race is in April and may align with some school’s spring breaks. Don’t blame it all on the runners at that time. While they do increase crowds a bit they don’t do it as much as you think. Other times like Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend in November might see similar crowds because of the holidays and the Epcot Food and Wine Festival occurring at that time.
At the parks when an event is going on
runDisney is very good about how they set up a course and the times they start races at so they can get people out of the parks as quickly as possible for the rest of the guests and runners to enjoy the parks. During the larger races like Walt Disney World Marathon or any of the half marathons, runners might still be in the park when the park opens. The Walt Disney World Marathon runs through all four Walt Disney World parks and can take some runners 6 to 7 hours to finish. With a 5:30-6:00AM start time that means runners will still be in the parks up until 1:00-2:00PM. runDisney uses bright yellow cones in the parks to signify where the course is. There are also Cast members staged at points to help direct traffic in the parks. Certain areas in Epcot and Hollywood Studios have crosswalks so guests can cross the course safely without a guest or runner getting injured. I encourage people to follow directions and do not try and cross a course on your own, please do it at a crosswalk. The rest of the park should be just as enjoyable as it is normally. Once the last runner comes through, the course is very quickly taken down and the park is returned to normal.
In Disneyland things are a little different. The parks are smaller and closer together. In all of the courses out in Disneyland the runners are pretty much through the parks well before the parks open to the public. The Disneyland races finish outside the parks near or in the Downtown Disney area. The majority of the course in the Disneyland half marathons actually takes place outside the parks due to the setup of the Disneyland resort.
Other things to note
runDisney runners love encouragement. If you as a stranger and bystander can cheer and encourage a runner as you are passing by please do so. It means the world to us and in some cases helps us finish an accomplishment many dream of completing. Many people will stand and cheer or hold signs for hours.
Don’t be afraid of runners. Many of us runners are Disney fans just like the rest of you. We wouldn’t run Disney races if we weren’t. Running through Disney parks is one of the big selling points of a runDisney race. If you see us in the resorts, or in the parks say hi, ask us about our race, or just say congrats, it means a lot to us.
Don’t necessarily avoid a runDisney weekend when planning your trip. They are fun experiences even if you aren’t running. I know when I am not running I love watching the races and seeing how hard everyone has worked to get to that point. Also even if you aren’t running you can still visit the runDisney Health and Fitness expo during the race weekend where you can buy runDisney merchandise, learn about the runDisney experience, listen to seminars, or check out the latest and greatest in running tech.
That is my take on touring the parks during a runDisney weekend and why you might want to rethink your plans if you are trying to avoid those weekends. You can find a list of all runDisney events here.